The question of assisted dying has been in the air for a while, yet the arguments against this controversial move have won, at least for now …

Last Friday in the Commons as I sat listening in the gallery to the moving and powerful points that MPs made both in support of and strongly against the Assisted Dying Bill, I truly believed that this debate was one of the most high quality debates that the Commons has seen in a long time. The multitude and variety of speakers expressed their opinions passionately and in complete earnestness, which made it possible for one to sympathise with both sides of the argument.

Both outside Parliament and inside Parliament, I could sense that this bill brought with it a wave of emotion and controversy: from the lobbyists across the road that represented both Yes and No camps to the emotionally evocative speeches from MPs such as Paul Flynn, the surrounding atmosphere was a privilege to witness. Although the noose around the neck of this Bill has been hung, this topic will continue to be debated and discussed for years to come.

Rob Marris, Labour MP for Wolverhampton South West, brought forward this issue in a Private Member’s Bill – which many MPs in the Commons criticised for being poorly put together. The Bill specifically proposed that terminally ill patients would be able to choose to end their own life through a lethal injection after passing through safeguards such as the consultation and consent from two doctors and ruling by a high court judge. The flaws in these safeguards were continually emphasised by those in opposition to the Bill who argued they would still not provide protection for the most vulnerable in society. Marris claimed that current law does not meet the beliefs of many suffering patients nor medics and expressed that the choice MPs faced today was ‘a matter of conscience’.

As the floor was opened up for debate, there were numerous MPs attempting to catch the speaker’s eye to express their voice on the issue. Multiple MPs in favour of the Bill used the example of the successful practice of Assisted Suicide in the state of Oregon in America, with one Labour MP pointing out that the success of the Oregon Act in allowing people to die with dignity has influenced the state of California to sign off their own Assisted Dying Bill. However, just as many MPs opposed to the Bill frequently highlighted the issue that it would be difficult to estimate whether someone had six months or less to live, with many emphasising how counts of terminally ill patients often live far longer than their initial prognosis: conservative MP Nadine Dorries said: ‘No doctor can accurately predict the end of someone’s life at six months’.

Support and opposition for the Bill was surprisingly mixed amongst both major parties – yet the Conservatives overall did seem to be more strongly against it. However, conservative MP Crispin Blunt supported the Bill advocating that this was an ‘issue of freedom’ and even made reference to the old Conservative logo, the freedom torch, to emphasise his point. Blunt expressed that individuals ‘Must and ought to have the right to choose’ and thus did indeed put forth a compelling case. Across the chamber, Labour MP Lyn Brown demonstrated her extreme opposition towards the Bill and emphasised the fact that vulnerable people may become pressured to resort to these measures due to the financial cost of hospice care. Her plea to the chamber to vote against the Bill was fortified when she said that it would ‘make the vulnerable more vulnerable’.


However, one of the cases I found most moving was from Labour MP Paul Flynn, who read out a letter from an elderly constituent who had expressed his anguish at watching his dearly beloved wife starve herself to death as the means of ending her suffering. This story, I think, really resonates with those who would be strongly in favour of assisted suicide as it highlights the sorrows that many families and friends experience watching their loved ones in horrible pain. On the other hand, Conservative MP Caroline Superman expressed her fears that the Bill would risk the sanctity of life and said ‘life is a gift from God … it is not our right to bring it to an end’. She also added that the passing of the Bill would threaten hospices funding and foster ideas in sufferers’ minds that they are a burden to their family.

Overall, the debate produced a great deal of conflicting emotions within me and I felt very moved hearing MP’s personal stories about their experiences with their families and friends’ deaths. I would say that the opposing side persuaded me in the end, especially after speakers such as Dr. Liam Fox asserted that the Bill would produce a fundamental change in doctors’ relationships with patients and that it would be ‘all too easy to open a Pandora’s box’.

However, as I alluded to at the beginning of this article, this Bill for now is definitely defeated with 330 to 118 voting against it, but that does not mean that the question so many discussed regarding giving an individual the choice to die with dignity will be easily forgotten. Although we may not see this issue debated again for a few years in the wake of this defeat, that does not mean that Assisted Dying will never be an option for terminally ill patients in the future. For now, let us as a society in the meantime vow to treat our most vulnerable with the upmost respect so that no one ever feels like a burden to their family.

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